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Turning tide for UK anaerobic digestion industry?

"The last few years have been very challenging for the UK AD industry. We’ve been operating in an environment of declining government support for renewable energy, with tariffs for renewable electricity and, until very recently, renewable heat steadily falling. There are, however, a number of reasons to believe that the tide may be turning and that AD in the UK has a bright future," said ADBA Chief Executive Charlotte Morton in her welcoming remarks at the recent AD & World Biogas Expo.

According to Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive, Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA), the “tide may be turning” for the UK anaerobic digestion (AD) industry.

Held last week at the NEC in Birmingham, UK, the UK AD & World Biogas Expo 2018 was jointly organised by the Anaerobic Digestion and Bioresources Association (ADBA) and the World Biogas Association (WBA). According to Charlotte Morton, Chief Executive, ADBA, the “tide may be turning” for the UK anaerobic digestion (AD) industry.

First, despite significant delays, changes to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) have now finally come into effect, providing the kind of tariff rates for biomethane production that we were seeing five years ago as well as new tariff guarantees that lock in these rates over a set period. This is bringing GBP150-300 million of new investment to build a further 50 or more biomethane plants. And whilst the current RHI scheme is due to close by 2021, the urgent need for more biomethane is resulting in calls from the Committee on Climate Change for the government to put in place a replacement before the end of this year, Morton said.

She also highlighted that there was also “good news” on the food waste side of the industry, with the European Union’s Circular Economy Package having just come into force and that despite Brexit, ADBA expects the UK to adopt in due course.

One of the key elements of the package is an obligation for EU Member States to bring in separate collections for biowaste by December 2023, and we fully expect the UK to adopt these targets in the Resources & Waste Strategy due out later this year, said Morton.

Morton pointed out that there was also investment expected in improving existing biogas plant performance.

There is considerable investment coming into the AD sector as part of an industry consolidation that involves refinancing and upgrading existing on-farm AD plants to improve their performance. This is expected to require GBP300 million of opex across the industry per annum by 2020. So there’s a huge light at the end of the tunnel if we can just keep going through these tough times, Charlotte Morton said.

While the UK AD industry already has sufficient capacity to power 1.2 million homes, the number of new AD plants being built has been falling in recent years, constraining the ability of the industry to help meet government decarbonisation goals across heat, electricity, farming, waste, and transport. ADBA’s latest Market Report shows that AD in the UK is currently reducing emissions by 1 percent per annum but has the potential to reduce emissions by 5 percent, if the industry reaches its full potential.

An estimated 3 000 visitors attended the two-day annual event that included an exhibition with around 250 exhibitors, a full on the expo floor style conference and workshop programme as well as an evening awards ceremony. Dates and venue for the next edition in 2019 have yet to be announced.

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